Happy Halloween Packer Nation!
With the bye week upon us, focus has turned to handing out candy and dressing up for All Hallow’s Eve. The bitter taste of the Green Bay Packers’ 44-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints last Sunday night may still be haunting you but rest assured, the Packers aren’t afraid of no ghost as they take a much needed week off.
The Packers are also at the exact halfway point of their season and now is as good a time as ever to take stock of the team and where they are and where they can still go. Since today is Halloween, it would be rather appropriate to ask ourselves one question:
Are the 2014 Green Bay Packers a trick or a treat? Here are arguments for both sides.
It’s tough to label a team as a “trick” after a four game winning streak, but given how abruptly that streak was halted it is a fair criticism to ask.
The Packers once again struggled on defense against a top tier quarterback. After shutting down and blowing out the likes of Jay Cutler, Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton, Green Bay’s defense was reduced to a pile of bones by Drew Brees. This is also after Russell Wilson’s slaughter of the defense in Week 1.
This time, the Packers were without half of their starting secondary (Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett were both out against the Saints with injuries) but Davon House had his worst game of the season a week after being touted as one more talented defensive back in Green Bay’s arsenal.
Then there’s the run defense. The Packers have the worst run defense in the league and it has become clear that they miss BJ Raji. Poor tackling has once again doomed the unit and running backs are getting into the secondary far too often. This could be a back breaker as the weather gets colder.
As for the offense, Eddie Lacy has struggled a bit. Yes he had the big game against the Vikings and had a decent receiving game against the Saints but he has not yet stacked back-to-back solid games in his sophomore season. He still seems far too hesitant at times and is no making the decision to cut back and go forward like he was last season.
If all the above struggles continue, the Packers will potentially be fighting for a playoff all the way until Week 17 for a second year in a row.
Now for the good news.
Aaron Rodgers is as proficient as ever. Don’t let the game against the Saints fool you. Once again a tipped ball forced an interception (two of Rodgers’ three picks this season have been a result of his receiver batting the ball in the air) and he also tweaked his hamstring which all but eliminated his mobility.
Rodgers has 19 touchdown passes to only three interceptions. He is on pace to finish the season with 38 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions.
That’s pretty close to his 2011 MVP performance and he has to be in the conversation for the 2014 award.
His wide receivers also are having a spectacular season. Jordy Nelson is once again proving that despite his new contract he is still underpaid. All Randall Cobb does is catch touchdowns (apologies to Cris Carter for that one) and even rookie Davante Adams has gotten in on the act. Despite the departure of James Jones, the Green Bay receivers haven’t missed a beat.
The news also isn’t all bad on defense. Mike Daniels has played well all season and is clearly the team’s vocal leader on that side of the ball. Letroy Guion has stepped up to fill the hole left by Raji after looking absolutely putrid early in the season and even Datone Jones was showing improvement before he got hurt.
The best part of the defense has been a veteran reborn and a rookie who has been playing like a veteran.
Julius Peppers marks the first “big name” free agent the Packers had signed since Charles Woodson in 2006 and Peppers has shown he has plenty left in the tank. Whether it’s been with his hand on the ground or standing up as a linebacker, Green Bay’s “elephant” man has earned every penny of that contract and has injected much needed life into the Packers’ pass rush.
Rookie safety HaHa Clinton-Dix has erased the bitter taste left in the mouth of Packers fans by the departed M.D. Jennings. Clinton-Dix has shown a nose for the ball and isn’t afraid to tackle. He can play both the deep safety position as well as getting up towards the line of scrimmage to help with the pass rush or the run defense. He has room to grow (he is a rookie after all) but there is enough there to show that he can be the safety of the future for the Packers.
So enjoy your bye week, Packer Nation. It’s been overall a sweet start to the 2014 season.
Let’s just hope the spooks are dormant and the ghosts are busted as the Packers make their push for Super Bowl XLIX in these final eight games.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke